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Halloween Goes to the Dogs (and Cats) as Contests Go Virtual This Year

COVID-19 has pet owners adapting to online costume events

Amy Cox and her family/friends dressed up for Halloween

Courtesy of Amy Cox

Amy Cox, center, with her husband, mother and dogs, created a prize-winning Día de Los Muertos-themed Halloween float for a dog costume contest several years ago.

En español | Megan Wisdom had never considered dressing up her cats for Halloween before, but 2020 is different.

Wisdom, 56, of Brooklyn, New York, bought devil horns and a cape for her solid black rescue named Lily — fitting garb for an animal best described as “feisty,” says Wisdom. “Her growl is a purr,” she adds.

Under normal circumstances Lily is far too ornery to join an in-person pet costume contest, which is likely to be populated by dogs and more docile creatures. But as COVID-19 has forced organizers to make these annual Halloween events virtual, pet owners are adapting to this new take on the dress-up tradition.

"It's very rare that there are costume contests you can bring your cat to,” says Wisdom, who is using the opportunity to try to raise money for her rescue organiztion, Greenpoint Cats. “Virtual is a different story because you can put them on your lap and plop an outfit on them."

Costume creativity front and center

A growing segment of pet owners is purchasing the slew of pet costumes on the market to celebrate Halloween. According to the American Pet Products Association, 5 percent of dog owners and 2 percent of cat owners buy their animals presents for Halloween and 15 percent of dog owners have holiday costumes at home.

Some owners participate in costume contests to raise awareness and money for animal rescue organizations. Others just want to get their beloved furbaby in the media spotlight and to have a good time with like-minded humans.

Pet Halloween costume

Courtesy of Ilene Zeins

Ilene Zeins and her Maltipoo ZZ.

"For a large number of us, who have dogs and not children, it satisfies a certain kind of parental Halloween moment,” says Jennifer-Jo Moyer, 56, co-organizer of the annual Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade in New York City's East Village. “For other people it's just the sheer joy of creativity and having your dog take part in your art."

Thousands of onlookers usually come out to the Tompkins Square event to watch hundreds of dogs dressed in fabulous costumes, such as the elaborate Día de Los Muertos-themed float that earned Amy Cox, 57, and her Yorkie and two Chihuahuas a grand prize a few years back.

Cox, who lives in Dallas, paid $450 to have the heavy floats shipped to her hotel in New York.

"Because I travel so far to come to these events, I have so much fun and I really go over the top,” says Cox, who runs her own rescue and attends pet costume contests with her pups throughout the year, including the PupScouts red carpet event in New York City and Superzoo pet trade show in Las Vegas.

This year, Cox says, some of the grandeur of the dogs’ sequined costumes, bedazzled floats and matching makeup (on the humans, of course) might be lost online, but she hopes to see more participants under less pressure. Many people don't want to deal with the stress of building a float and getting it to location in notoriously hard-to-park New York City.

Adapting to virtual Halloween

Though regular pet costume contest participants, like Cox, are excited that virtual events will provide a wider platform, adapting to Zoom will present a new challenge.

New York City real estate agent Ilene Zeins normally focuses on decorating a stroller for her Maltipoo ZZ for the Tompkins Square event. This year, Zeins will set up lights inside her apartment with a whole production stage, but she's unsure how her usual stroller or outfits will come across on the screen. “I don't know how it's going to present to the public,” she says.

While the Tompkins parade is taking to Zoom, many other pet Halloween contests are moving to social media, including Lakewood Alive's Spooky Pooch Parade in Ohio, Fort Greene, Brooklyn's Great PUPkin Dog Costume Contest, the Talbot Humane Society's Halloween Hustle Dog Walk in Easton, Maryland, and Petco's national Halloween “Make a Scene” Photo Contest.

Many pet-related organizations offer opportunities to get into the Halloween spirit and dress up your furry friend, so do some googling to find contests and activities in your area.

Some, like the Petco contest, offer substantial cash awards, including a $10,000 grand prize, to the winning costumes. That's one of the reasons for Wisdom's devil cat this year. “Normally, I wouldn't even think about dressing up a cat,” she says. “But with all the different costume contests going on, I'm looking for every opportunity to raise money for Greenpoint Cats.”

Lily, it seems, will have to put up with being devilishly cute this year.

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